2013 So Far

My apologies for the disappearing act. I’m still compiling stats for each match but typically the findings are just simple factoids that interest me rather than overarching blog-worthy discoveries. So please, let me know of any USWNT stats requests you might have. For what it’s worth, here of some one off observations of the first 10 games under Sermanni.

Leroux’s training at the Breakers as a flank player has translated on the international stage. Remember my post about USWNT players as college stars? (Part I, Part II) Leroux’s college stats and her first year on the full national team had me convinced that she just wasn’t that great of an assister. I’ll happily eat those words. Tied with Heath as the USWNT’s leaders in assists so far with 4 assists, she has the best minutes per assist statistics (123 min per assist). By deciding to assist instead of going for goal, her goal scoring rate has decreased significantly. Although Sermanni’s generous minutes (within 9 caps Leroux has almost equaled her total minutes from all 27 games in 2012) also probably have something to do with that.

Last year Wambach, Morgan, and Leroux all had goalscoring rates of less than 90 minutes per goal. This year, only Press has a goalscoring rate under 90 at a goal per 64 minutes. Not bad, rookie.

No player has played all 10 games. Morgan, Heath, and Leroux have all played 9 games. Morgan leads the team with 8 starts. Morgan, Heath, and O’Reilly are the only players with over 600 total minutes. Some of this is a function of numerous injuries but it also illustrates how Sermanni is using the off year to test out young players and different team lineups. Something you might want to keep track of: longtime Sundhage favorite, Buehler, has only played in 5 games and has the fewest minutes played out of the assumed top four central defenders (Rampone, Sauerbrunn, Engen, and Buehler).

Rapinoe has only played 4 games so far due to limited availability. I am quite interested to see how she performs on Thursday (provided she plays) because of those 4 games she has played all 360 minutes and has contributed at least a goal or an assist in each of them.

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A New Style?

Much has been made of Coach Sermanni’s decision to give out first caps to fresh and young faces, after all complaints about Sundhage’s roster decisions often centered around her loyalty to certain players and unwillingness to look elsewhere for talent. But wait, Sundhage couldn’t always have been stuck in her ways could she? Surely she formulated her own opinion early on when she first came on as head coach of the USWNT. With this question in mind I looked into the US Soccer archives to see Sundhage’s early decisions.

Young Players

“Sermanni calls up high school goalkeeper!” “Sermanni calls in 18 year old PSG forward, Lindsey Horan!” “Sermanni calls up 2012 U-20 World Cup stars!”

These were all indicators that the coach known for finding talent in young players and injecting youth into national teams was living up to his reputation. But wait in 2007 Sundhage’s first training camp of 24 players included four teenagers (Tobin Heath, Michelle Enyeart, Casey Nogueira, and Nikki Washington). So far Sermanni has called up two teenagers to two training camps (29 and 23 players). How about rosters? Well there we’re even as Heath and Horan were the only teenagers on game day rosters and subsequently the only teenagers to receive caps in Sundhage and Sermanni’s first six games as USWNT coach.

Perhaps looking at college-aged players might reveal something different. Sundhage called  in seven collegiate players to her first training camp and three made it onto her first roster. Sermanni called in three collegians plus one high schooler and all three plus Horan have made rosters and had playing time thus far.

In general the age thing might not be a good determinant of whether Sermanni is that much different from Sundhage in infusing new talent into the USWNT. In fact for his first tournament roster the median age was 27 years old while Sundhage’s first tournament roster was 24 years old. The idea that the college game is no longer good enough of a training ground for the international level may have some merit looking at these stats. (Or Sundhage was equally, if not more, willing to bring new young players into the fold in the beginning.)

Uncapped Players

Christen Press has provided four goals and one assist within her first six caps, so what was Sundhage doing not giving caps to new players? True, Sundhage had not capped an uncapped player since the second game of 2011, but what wer her first six games like? Within the first six games of her tenure as USWNT head coach, Sundhage capped four uncapped players and even gave each of them at least one start (six total). In total these four players received 13 caps within the first six games. Sermanni has capped six uncapped players with 15 total caps (also six starts total) within the first six games. Alright so this shows a little more difference in a coach’s willingness to give caps out, not by much but a little.

Across The Board

 

Sundhage

Sermanni

# of Players played

23

26

# of Players started

21

23

# of Players with > 90 minutes

21

23

# of Players with Full 90*

18

22

Total Caps Given

92

84

 *Random interesting factoid: Press has not played a full 90 yet.

Basically this shows that Sundhage gave more chances to play to a slightly smaller group of players. But really their habits as new USWNT weren’t too far off from one another. All of this is just to say, it is too early to pass judgement on Sermanni, good or bad. It is exciting as fans of the team and the sport to see a new style of coaching and new players, but really at this point it is just a new coach getting to know his player pool. Sundhage did the same thing back in 2008 when it might have been easier to stick with experienced players (although maybe not, given the team dynamic post 2007 World Cup). Sermanni is likely to develop his favorites and go-to lineups as he develops familiarity with the players and while it may be frustrating for players of the peripheral and fans, if it ain’t broke why fix it? 

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How the USWNT took over FIFA’s 2012 Awards

Unless you’ve been living a rock you’ll know that Abby Wambach won the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award today. Additionally Pia Sundhage won the award for best coach in women’s soccer. These awards cap off a great year for the USWNT. Aside from women athletes getting their time in the limelight what I most appreciate about this is how FIFA releases everyone’s votes; it makes for an interesting peek into how people interpreted the 2012 season. So for a little fun here are a few of my findings.

Player % of Total Votes
Wambach 20.67
Marta 13.50
Morgan 10.87
Sawa 10.85
Sinclair 10.33
Lloyd 7.99
Abily 7.70
Miyama 7.51
Fukumoto 7.32
Rapinoe 2.89


Let’s look at the overall vote distribution. The biggest separation between two players was between Wambach and Marta. Considering the amount of press and attention Morgan received this past year it is rather surprising to see she barely beat out Sawa to be the third finalist for the award. People were outraged that Sinclair wasn’t in the top three but she wasn’t far off (just .54%). Rapinoe is pretty clearly the lowest vote-getter yet if you look at actual votes she got some votes from important teams (Australia, France, and Sweden’s captains and Canadian coach Herdman all included her in their top 3).

Player % of Coaches Votes
Wambach 20.79
Sawa 13.65
Marta 13.14
Fukumoto 10.17
Miyama 9.75
Morgan 9.75
Sinclair 8.64
Abily 6.96
Lloyd 4.65
Rapinoe 2.46


Notice how the rankings change if they are based on the coaches’ votes. Wambach remains number one but Sawa jumps up to second. Fukumoto leaps from ninth all the way to fourth. These rankings seem to show that coaches appreciate defense/captains more than scoring. Given that they deal with figuring out how to get their teams to gel and produce on the pitch this is not terribly surprising.

Player % of Captain Votes
Wambach 17.04
Marta 14.85
Sawa 13.05
Morgan 11.19
Sinclair 9.84
Miyama 9.15
Abily 8.64
Fukumoto 5.67
Lloyd 5.43
Rapinoe 5.10

The captains’ votes are a little more evenly distributed. Wambach’s lead over Marta is less than 3% and less than 10% separates number two from number ten. These rankings look much more similar to the overall votes than the coaches’ votes did perhaps showing that coaches indeed are a different breed.

Player % of Media Votes
Wambach 24.18
Lloyd 13.89
Marta 12.51
Sinclair 12.51
Morgan 11.67
Abily 7.50
Fukumoto 6.12
Sawa 5.82
Miyama 3.60
Rapinoe 1.11


It should be noted that much fewer members of the media get to vote for the awards than do captains and coaches. Still, these rankings seem to show that the media likes winners and the names in lights. All three Japanese nominees are in the bottom four whereas Lloyd is the second highest vote-getter. Sinclair also makes her long-awaited appearance in the top three.

You might have noticed my tweet from earlier today (@uswntstats) or in the charts above that Morgan is not in the top three in any of the three categories and yet came in third overall. How did this happen? Through the coaches and captains votes Morgan is 1.92 percentage points behind Sawa but thanks to the media she makes up 1.95 percentage points and overcame Sawa to take third place.

Pia Sundhage received a similar (actually an even larger) effect from the media. Norio Sasaki actually received more of the coaches votes than Sundhage and they received the same percentage of captains’ votes. But Sundhage made up all of that ground due to the media’s votes.

Sticking with the coach of the year award, I think the most interesting voting behavior was the fact that Christine Sinclair did not vote for John Herdman as one of the top three coaches. In total there were six full national team coaches up for the award and of those Sinclair (Can.), Soubeyrand (Fra.), and Stoney (Eng.) did not vote for their own coaches.

If I have time I’d love to look into how teams that played against Brazil, the USWNT, Japan, and/or France voted. But the fact USWNT started off 2013 with the world recognizing their 2012 success doesn’t count for much as now their focus must shift to the future and the 2015 World Cup.

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2012 Recap: The Team’s Year

Last week I uploaded 2012 Season stats. These are the stats that I’ll utilize to compare future performances to this past season. I have other stats but these seemed the most standard stats that could help describe each player’s (mostly offensive) effect on games. Also, in case any of you are budding statisticians you can take a look and try to come up with your own findings. I’ve looked at these stats for a little too long and am feeling a little burnout coming on but I will direct your attention to a few things I noticed.

1. Total numbers of goals and assists is not everything.

Selected Players Goals Assists Weighted Contribution Average Weight
Boxx 3 3 2.92 .486
Cheney 2 11 1.99 .153
Heath 4 7 4.52 .411
Leroux 14 1 3.82 .255
Lloyd 15 1 5.54 .346
Morgan 28 21 20.75 .423
Wambach 27 8 13.18 .377


Here’s an abbreviated look at some interesting cases. Cheney had eleven assists and two goals, an impressive amount by any standard but then you see that with less than half the total amount of contributions Boxx still has a higher weighted contribution total. The average weight stat is just an added column to more clearly depict how different a player’s contribution can be in terms of importance. Some players are able to perform more against poor competition and it helps them pad their goal and assists statistics but those contributions are much less important than a contribution in a game where the result depends on one goal.

2. Offensive production was strong. Very strong.

Seven players (if you include Krieger) could be expected to score or assist if they played a full 90 minutes. Of those only Leroux and Rodriguez were regular subs. Morgan, Rapinoe, Wambach, and O’Reilly (and Krieger) started more games than they subbed.

3. The entire team got involved.

22 players got playing time. 20 players got starts. 18 players contributed either a goal or an assist. 17 players assisted on at least one goal. 12 players scored a goal. Every player that scored (except for Lindsey) also assisted on at least one goal. 10 players contributed to at least 10 goals (either scoring or assisting).
I think point #3 is a good recap for the entire year. 2012 was a year to remember for the USWNT. Yes, there were stars and yes there were great individual performances but what really happened was a team effort and other teams just could not handle the USWNT’s depth and talent.

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120 Ways to Score a Goal

So far while I have examined passes, assists, goals, takeaways, etc. I’ve done little to delve into the nature of these statistics. With the 2012 season over (and a little break from work) I decided to catalog every single USWNT goal from 2012. I recorded pertinent information about the 120 goals and 101 assists to see if the USWNT preferred one side of the pitch or if a player’s dominant foot was evident in how they assisted or scored.

First, the assists. Two-thirds of the assists were played from outside of the 18-yard box. This could range from Rapinoe’s assist to Lloyd in the gold medal game, essentially at the center circle, to the O’Reilly’s assist to Morgan’s game-winner in the semifinal. I would venture to say that Rapinoe was not explicitly expecting her pass to be an assist while O’Reilly definitely was. In any case, this shows that defenses should have been aware of USWNT playing a final pass prior to them reaching the penalty area.

Left Center Right
Rodriguez 4 1 0
O’Reilly 0 3 11
Rapinoe 6 1 5
Heath 5 2 0

Secondly, the flank midfielders love their flanks but they also can’t resist tucking in centrally. Rapinoe did well on both flanks while the other outside mids enjoyed success on their main flank but also provided service centrally. This is also bad news for opposing teams as they continue to be dangerous wherever they are.

Assist – LF Assist – RF Assist – H Goal – LF Goal – RF Goal – H
Morgan* 15 5 0 19 5 4
Rapinoe 2 10 0 2 6 0
O’Reilly 3 10 1 1 5 0
Cheney 1 10 0 0 2 0
Heath 3 4 0 1 1 2
Wambach 4 0 4 6 9 12
Team* 42 51 7 38 48 32

*Morgan had an assist off of a throw-in. There were also 2 own goals scored by the opposition this year. This is not accounted for in these numbers.

Some players are clearly more comfortable with one side of their body. For instance, Morgan loves the left. We all know that Morgan is left-footed and both her assisting and scoring habits show this tendency. Of her 21 assists, 15 came off of her left foot, 5 off of her right foot, and 1 off of a throw-in. She also scored 19 goals with her left foot. On the other side, despite the fact that her left foot launched the USWNT back into public consciousness, Rapinoe is clearly right foot dominant with 10 assists and 6 goals from her right foot.

Heath continues to befuddle. Her assists and goal-scoring do not show a true tendency (although watching her dribble would suggest she is right-footed). While she did spend time on the right flank during some games, she produced assists exclusively from the left – and the center. Heath’s ability with both feet and her ability to create from both the left and the center suggest that she might do well centrally as many have pushed for recently.

Image

The assist is crucial. Goalscorers often get all the glory but the large majority of goals scored were scored on the first touch. Yes, this means that the goal scorer had only one touch to get it right but it also shows that the ball was played to a prime location for goal scoring.

Wambach, like Morgan, is left-footed. This is not shown as clearly in her goals as in her assists. However her dominance in the air is shown in both statistics. Wambach actually scored the most goals with her head, then her right foot, and then her preferred left foot. My only reasoning for this is that 24 of her goals came on the first touch where she could not and did not settle the ball so that she could shoot with her left foot whereas Morgan actually scored more goals that required at least 1 touch prior to shooting and her natural tendency was to settle the ball for her left foot.

In general, the USWNT is slightly more productive with their right feet than their left feet, this is not surprising as most are right-footed. But really, all this exercise has shown is that the USWNT has the talent to be dangerous from all areas of the pitch and in 2012 no one had any real success in preventing them from banging in goal after goal.

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Diffusion of Sociology and the New Women’s League

We interrupt the regularly scheduled stats-based analysis to bring you a message from the more subjective realm of sociological theory.

If you’ve read my prologue or About section you’ll see that I earned my degree from Northwestern University in Sociology. Therefore Joanna Lohman’s recent argument about the new women’s league using Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations theory peaked my interest. As a fan of women’s soccer I was immediately grateful to read a developed and sophisticated articulation of one person’s beliefs on how to best market the new league, indeed it’s a well thought out article and certainly brings up a few great points. However it is also an example of how sociological theories can be easily twisted to fit a situation.

I spent a good time in college learning about sociological theories but even if you read the Wikipedia article that Lohman linked to, you will see that Lohman drew from a very broad idea of the Diffusion of Innovations theory (AKA Malcolm Gladwell’s explanation of it) and applied it to the marketing of the new women’s league. The problem with sociology is that since it explains recurring phenomenons in society people begin to think of it as common sense. They hear the first thing about the theory and it makes sense to their frame of reference so they go on without completely understanding the theory.

Let’s assume that Lohman is correct in saying that the expansion and acceptance of the new women’s league will follow the Diffusion of Innovations theory (it is definitely not a law).  The first group to accept an innovation are “Innovators,” 2.5% of the population. I would argue that the innovators do not need to be marketed to. The reason why innovators are innovators is that they are willing to take risks and invest in something new. They are already open to new ideas and interested in adopting them before there is time and proof that it is a good investment. Really, the owners of the teams and league’s sponsors are more likely to be the innovators as people with greater financial resources and willingness to invest it in the league.

Instead the people to market a new league and really any invention is the “Early Adopters” group. First off, this makes a much larger portion of the society, 13.5%. Second, it is within this group that an innovation actually takes off within society. Typically the opinion leaders of society are part of the “Early Adopters” portion of society and to be honest that is the group anybody wants to market their product to. This concept can be seen as early as childhood when kids adopt the idea of “cool.” I am not trying to argue that the new league needs to become the hip place to be, but rather the league leaders need to determine which part of society they want the women’s league’s audience to be and attract that group’s opinion leaders. Maybe that is the soccer moms or maybe that is the crazy sports enthusiasts, either way the league will need those opinion leaders to latch on to the league. Who are these people? People with influence, people with an audience that will listen to them and, most importantly, people who can convince others to put money where they tell them to.

Why else is the “Early Adopters” group so important? They are over 600% the size of the “Innovators” and yet some of the fastest adopters. It is important that this league has some sort of success early on and a small “Innovators” contingency of fans is not going to be good enough. These “Early Adopters” will bring the league much closer to critical mass than the “Innovators” can.

From there the rest of the marketplace will slowly follow the leads of the “Innovators” and “Early Adopters”. The other groups are much slower to act than the first two groups (a fact that league investors and leaders should keep in mind if growth stagnates down the line). But the “Innovators” and “Early Adopters” will be there to invest and support the league. Most importantly the league will already have reached the opinion leaders and established a reputation.

What’s the takeaway from this? Lohman’s analysis of the marketing potential of the new women’s league wasn’t too far off the mark if the league decides that they don’t want their critical mass to come from the youth soccer fold. Looking at the population that makes up the bulk of the USWNT’s fan tribute tour crowds, that might be a hasty decision though. The new league needs to figure out who their ideal audience for the league is. The beauty of sociological theory is that it can typically apply to any group of people from the entire worldwide population to a neighborhood of people. Once they figure out who their audience is they need to make sure the league draws in the opinion leaders of that/those group(s) and that they make a good impression. Word of mouth and grassroots efforts will do a large bulk of the work from there.

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Growing Up on the National Team Part 2

As promised, here is part 2 with some somewhat disjointed thoughts about the individual players’ statistics. The numbers in the parentheses are excluding the 14-0 and 13-0 wins during Olympic qualifying. More detailed methodology notes are included at the end of the post.

Heath College Aggregate (4 Years) 2012 USWNT USWNT Aggregate (2009 – 2012)
Minutes per Game 83.22 59.14 (59.81) 48.41 (48.50)
Minutes per Goal 407.32 325.25 (418.67) 377.60 (460.75)
Minutes per Assist 241.84 216.83 (209.33) 236.00 (230.75)

Heath’s minutes per game shows that she was crucially important at UNC. Put in comparison, in this season, only Morgan’s stats, O’Hara, Solo, and Wambach’s adjusted stats can compare to the amount that Heath was utilized at UNC. As someone who was part of 3 championships that indicates how crucial of a fulcrum Heath was for their team and perhaps why Sundhage believed Heath could transform into the future of the USWNT. On the USWNT Heath has outperformed her college performance. The difference is a little less impressive when looking at the adjusted numbers but they still either hover right around her college productivity or have improved since then. Given that she was taken 1st in the 2010 WPS draft even with those less flashy numbers and the fact that she has improved shows that she is just beginning to reach her potential; playing with great targets and in an even better environment doesn’t hurt either (even when considering the great atmosphere at UNC with 3 championships).

 

Morgan College Aggregate (4 Years) 2012 USWNT USWNT Aggregate (2010 – 2012)
Minutes per Game 66.43 78.42 (83.08) 55.19 (56.47)
Minutes per Goal 112.20 84.96 (86.69) 86.03 (87.27)
Minutes per Assist 297.00 113.28 (142.43) 139.29 (169.41)

Morgan is utilized more in today’s USWNT than her college team which is rather remarkable given that she wasn’t on a team of superstars (although was pulled away from regular college play to national team duty). Her statistics are much better now possibly due to better service, better play, or even the fact that she no longer is the only threat to score. Most impressive is the fact that she has cut her assist rate in half. Once again this probably reflects both an improvement in her own play as well as the fact that she now has some of the best targets to assist.

 

Cheney College Aggregate (4 Years) 2012 USWNT USWNT Aggregate (2009 – 2012)
Minutes per Game 75.57 68.88 (69.0) 60.25 (61.66)
Minutes per Goal 94.73 895.50 (1657) 245.00 (287.75)
Minutes per Assist 216.96 179.10 (331.2) 193.42 (287.75)

Given their roles today it is rather surprising that Cheney had a better strike and assist rate than Morgan in college. Her strike rate was the best of all of the college players in this study at practically a goal per 90 minutes. While that has declined on the USWNT, her assist rate (which was already one of the best during college) has gotten better and was already one of the best in college (although if you do not consider the first 2 blowout games her numbers are much more pedestrian). Her strike rate decrease particularly this year may reflect the fact that she now occupies a role that is further from the goal and has somewhat changed her focus to creating goals rather than scoring them.

 

Rodriguez College Aggregate (4 Years) 2012 USWNT USWNT Aggregate (2009 – 2012)
Minutes per Game 72.90 31.71 (28.45) 49.24 (47.70)
Minutes per Goal 229.93 95.13 (313.00) 171.06 (209.15)
Minutes per Assist 284.67 190.30 (626.00) 361.11 (543.8)

We’re under the assumption that all strikers should have an amazingly prolific strike rate and get upset when they do not score constantly. Rodriguez led her team to a national championship and yet had a fairly pedestrian production rate throughout her college career. Rodriguez’s critics may be surprised to see that her USWNT strike rate over 4 years is actually better than at USC – with or without those blowout games from earlier this year. Are her 2012 statistics inflated due to the blowout wins? Yes, but her aggregate numbers show the more consistent general trend. The way that Rodriguez plays is quite possibly just how she plays and perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised when she does so.

 

Leroux College Aggregate (4 Years) 2012 USWNT
Minutes per Game 75.25 17.95 (16.60)
Minutes per Goal 110.89 37.70 (66.4)
Minutes per Assist 526.74 377.00 (332.0)

It is difficult to draw conclusions about Leroux since there is very limited information for her due to the fact that she has not played more than one USWNT season. Her college aggregate minutes per assist statistic however suggests that she is a true forward as one who scores goals and not one who creates them (her current season on the USWNT also supports this theory).

O’Reilly College Aggregate (4 Years) 2012 USWNT USWNT Aggregate (2009 – 2012)
Minutes per Game 68.49 53.61 (54.00) 66.69 (65.81)
Minutes per Goal 107.66 205.50 (396.00) 406.19 (477.13)
Minutes per Assist 129.64 137.00 (198.00) 212.76 (254.47)

O’Reilly had the best assist rate by far in college and her minutes per goal was also consistently one of the best (it should be noted that O’Reilly is a bit older than the other players and even within a few years there has been increasingly more parity in the college game). However, this also reflects the fact that she played as a forward up until Sundhage instituted her as a flank midfielder. Unfortunately US Soccer’s website only has statistics up until 2009 so comparing O’Reilly’s UNC numbers to her current numbers is not exactly comparing apples to apples. However if you compare her cumulative USWNT rate to Heath’s you’ll find that they are rather similar thereby demonstrating the effect that one’s position plays in their statistics.

What’s the general take away from all of this? In general it shows that often even the best players from college can improve but also that when you have more talented players around, the goals and assists are more likely to be spread around as well. This is certainly the case for the minutes as only Morgan plays more now than she did in college. Mostly though I think it gives us a broader perspective to understand each player’s play in the context of what they were capable of producing back in college and, as always, some fun factoids.

Methodology Notes

I compiled statistics listed on each player’s college athletics’ website. Some schools (such as UNC) provided more detailed statistics while others were rather random in when they provided stats and when they didn’t. For those schools that did not provide season-long statistics I compiled their statistics by pulling the relevant information from the game-by-game summary statistics. Occasionally these statistics did not include the minutes played in which case I used that season’s average minutes per game. (If this exercise taught me anything it was that institutions need to be more consistent in their sports reporting.)

The adjusted USWNT statistics do not include the games against the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. While there are sometimes blowouts in the college game never did I see a 14-0 or 13-0 drubbing. I chose to keep the 8-0 win over Costa Rica in because even just as recently as in the NCAA playoffs there are games with 9-2 scorelines.

One caveat you should keep in the back of your mind is the fact that the college game is different from the international game. There are unlimited substitutions allowed (although you cannot enter in the same period that you have been subbed out) and the golden goal in overtime exists. While these are important facts to keep in mind I believe the general conclusions garnered from 4 seasons of play are still applicable.

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